SOLOMONS GOVERNMENT QUESTIONS SOGAVARE GIFTS

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The former Prime Minister gave away a house and two cars

By Joy A. Rikimae

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Feb. 20, 2008) - Ousted Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare gave out two government vehicles and a house for free when he was in office.

One double-cabin hilux was given to the family of the late East Malaita Member of Parliament Joses Sanga, another to former attorney general Nuatali Tongarutu.

The family of late Aoke/Langalanga Member of Parliament Bartholomew Ulufa’alu was given a government house.

Mr Sogavare yesterday said he did that in recognition of the services these men and woman gave to the country.

But the Government said the action was illegal.

A spokesman from the Prime Minister’s Office said they are investigating the legality of the gifts.

"There’s no provision in the Parliamentary Entitlement Regulations that provides for such gifts," the spokesman said. "This is illegal. You cannot do that with government assets. Mr Sogavare is setting a dangerous precedent here."

Both men were ministers in the Sogavare regime.

Mr Sogavare also defended the vehicle given to Mrs Tongarutu.

He said the vehicle was given to compensate the loss of income to Mrs Tongarutu’s business when she was acting attorney general.

Mrs Tongarutu, who operates a law firm in Honiara, was acting attorney general for about six months.

Mr Sogavare said he was yet to formalise the decision to give those cars and house away.

"We were just about to do it when the change in government came. I hope the Sikua government will see the merit in my thinking and formalise the decision."

But the government spokesman said Mr Sogavare’s decision to give out government assets has no legal basis.

"With due respect to the late ministers, entitlements of MPs are clearly stated in the parliamentary entitlement regulation.

"There’s no where in the regulation that says families of late MPs are entitled to be given government vehicles or houses.

"Mr Sogavare is treating these government assets as his own. He has no right to give away government properties," the spokesman said.

On Mrs Tongarutu’s vehicle, the spokesman said the former acting attorney general was paid when she was on the job.

"She did not work for free, the government paid her. So she’s already compensated.

"It does not make sense to compensate her with a vehicle worth $300,000 when she was already paid her dues," the spokesman said.

He said investigations so far revealed the decision to give out these vehicles and house was solely made by Mr Sogavare.

"It was not a decision of the previous Cabinet, but that of Mr Sogavare alone."

The spokesman said the Government is pursuing the

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